Democratic Family Dynasties Dominate

Posted November 5, 2007 at 6:36pm

Second of two parts

The average member of the Michigan Democratic Congressional delegation is 70 years old and has served in Congress for 27 years. In any other state, the eight Democrats who can claim these titles would be ripe for retirement rumors.

But many of these Democrats would likely point out that they just got their gavels back — and they’re not going anywhere, anytime soon.

“I don’t know if they’ll ever retire,” said Gary Peters (D), a candidate for Michigan’s 9th district seat. “They’re very passionate about what they do. I think if they were interested in retiring, they would have retired a long time ago. As long as their health stays with them, they’ll continue to serve.”

Peters is a former state lottery commissioner who is running in the Democratic primary. If he is victorious against 2006 Democratic nominee Nancy Skinner (D), a radio talk-show host, he will run against eight-term Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R) in the general election.

Another Democratic opportunity for Michiganders is in the 7th district, where state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer (D) is running against freshman Rep. Tim Walberg (R).

And if Peters and Schauer win their Congressional bids this cycle, those averages of age and length of service would get much smaller. But those two districts remain the only pickup opportunities in the state for Democrats after redistricting in 2001 gave Republicans the numbers advantage in the delegation. [IMGCAP(1)]

Rep. Bart Stupak (D), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has held onto the Republican-leaning 1st district for eight terms and shows no signs of stopping, according to Democrats in the state. Although his district leans Republican, the GOP has yet to put up a promising challenger against him.

However, Stupak has been mentioned as a possibility to run for governor someday, building on his ability to win over Republicans in his wide-spanning district. And if Stupak ever gave up the district, Democrats could have a real fight to keep it.

Other Democratic Members, such as Reps. Sander Levin and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, also aren’t looking to move on anytime soon. First elected in 1996, Kilpatrick ties with second-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow for being the most junior members of the state’s Democratic delegation.

On the other side of the spectrum, Rep. John Conyers doesn’t appear to be heading towards the door anytime soon. Conyers, who now chairs the powerful Judiciary Committee, is in his 22nd term in Congress.

“I know every cycle people talk about it, some cycles people push at it,” said a Michigan Democrat with close knowledge of state politics. “Again, I would be surprised if he took himself out of the mix just as we got control.”

That might be to the chagrin of a few state lawmakers in his district, such as state Sen. Buzz Thomas (D).

“He’d clearly like to run,” said a Michigan Democrat of Thomas. “He’s even floated the idea of taking on Conyers [in a primary]. But he’s young. He could ride it out as long as he could find something to do. Nobody there is strong enough to force Conyers to retire. If you did, you’d see a free-for-all primary.”

As the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John Dingell (D) is another Member who is not moving on anytime soon. In fact, many look to his wife, Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Dingell, as someone who might be interested in running for his job some day.

“She’s a force in her own right,” said one Michigan Democrat. “She works the district like a demon, too.”

Because when in doubt, Michigan Democratic politics becomes a family affair.

The most well-known Democratic duo in the state are the Levin brothers, Sen. Carl Levin and his brother the Congressman.

Democrats even talked about creating a Levin trifecta by running the House Member’s son, state Sen. Andy Levin (D), for Congress in the 9th district against Knollenberg. The next Levin could also possibly move into his father’s district and run there instead if he ever retires, suggested one Michigan Democrat.

Furthermore, Rep. Dale Kildee’s (D) nephew, Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee (D) has also been talked about as a potential candidate for his uncle’s seat — if he also ever retires. Some Democrats say Kildee also might be looking at a gubernatorial bid instead in the future.

And Kilpatrick’s son, Kwame Kilpatrick (D), is the mayor of Detroit.

State Speaker Andy Dillon (D), is also looked at as someone who could run for Congress or governor some day. Democrats also have talked about recruiting him to run against Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R) someday.

Viewed as sitting in the last remaining swing district in the state for which Democrats have not recruited, McCotter won his district with 54 percent of the vote in 2006. Dillon turned down a bid for 2008 but could possibly take on McCotter in a forthcoming cycle.

Some say Dillon might also be gunning for the chance to run for governor. And given Stabenow’s 2006 re-election victory and Sen. Levin coasting to a sixth term next November, the most wide-open race for Democrats, in fact, might be the gubernatorial race in 2010, when Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) is term-limited.

Lt. Gov. John Cherry (D), though not as “charismatic or telegenic” as the governor, according to one source, has a lot of background in state politics and likely is thinking about a bid in 2010. Others have mentioned Oakland County Executive Bob Ficano (D), who holds a “very high-profile position” currently that is not term-limited, unlike state legislative posts.